Amid reports that the New Orleans Saints could part ways with tailback Reggie Bush, rather than pay him the $11.8 million he is scheduled to make in 2011, the personnel department and a few assistants from at least one AFC team broke out some video of the veteran this week to gauge whether he might be a fit as a slot receiver in the club's offense.
"It's intriguing, but we just don't know yet," one of the coaches told The Sports Xchange. "But it's a pretty good example of some of the ways we spend the time we've got right now, with no players. ... You get a wild (idea) and, instead of just dismissing it out of hand, it turns into a project."
Of course, Saints' coach Sean Payton has been adamant that he wants Bush back and that he can still fit into the New Orleans offense. And quarterback Drew Brees messaged Bush that he still has a role.
RB Reggie Bush
But people close to Bush, who were confidently suggesting only a month ago that he could return to New Orleans with a contract extension that made him financially "whole" for this year, have expressed some doubts, now that the Saints traded back up into the first round to bag Mark Ingram with a second first-round pick.
It's a crowded backfield in New Orleans with Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Lynell Hamilton, Ingram and Bush. And not even Payton, a master at creating roles for all of his backs, and a coach who has embraced the committee approach, might be able to divine a brew for getting everyone involved.
As for Bush, he's been a matchup nightmare for opponents out in space, and a key player for a big, screen-pass team like the Saints.
But it's one thing to line up in the slot in situations and another to do it consistently. There were a few franchises that toyed with the idea of Bush as a wide receiver prior to the 2006 draft, when he was the second overall selection, but no one has mentioned the possibility of him moving to the position full-time until the AFC club whispered it this week.
In his first two seasons in the league, Bush averaged 80.5 receptions per year and 5.75 catches per game. The past three years, impacted by injuries, Bush's average is 53.7 catches per season and 4.15 per game.
On a Seattle-area radio show last week, we noted that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was most likely to return to the Seahawks for 2011, and various media reports later in the week bolstered that possibility. That seems to be the prevailing belief around the league.
Of all the veteran quarterbacks either available in free agency or rumored to be on the trade block, Hasselbeck is mentioned the least of anyone when a change of scenery is discussed. The 12-year veteran might be a solid "bridge" quarterback for a team seeking an experienced guy to play for a year or two while a youngster is developed, but there's only modest buzz so far about him filling such a role.
Hasselbeck will turn 36 in late September, and he's coming off a season in which he had some injuries and threw only a dozen touchdown passes. Bit those who have watched Hasselbeck at practice insist he can still throw every pass and are somewhat surprised he seems to have generated so little unofficial interest.
The Seahawks definitely want Hasselbeck to re-sign, probably for a short-term contract, and the organization still seems to retain confidence that backup Charlie Whitehurst can develop into a viable starter. Team officials also insisted to The Sports Xchange this week that there is little interest in Matt Leinart, a free agent and former Heisman Trophy winner who played for coach Pete Carroll at USC.
On the drawing board
There are seven teams with new offensive coordinators and who figure to have unsettled quarterback situations, and those clubs certainly could benefit from minicamps and OTAs this spring. Unfortunately, the lockout precludes such work, and several of the coordinators involved have yet to conduct an extended sit-down session with the contenders for the quarterback job. That puts them in a really tough spot, several of the coaches conceded.
Joked one: "It's going to be like going to Berlitz, you know, a cram-course in a new language, when this thing finally gets over," suggested the coordinator.
Prime Time 'tude
In an interview with the always thought-provoking Deion Sanders this week, for a feature that will appear in the Hall of Fame program this summer, the all-time great cornerback allowed that he was signed by the 49ers in 1994 and the Cowboys in '95 to help combat the other team's great wide receiver and win a Super Bowl. But, said Sanders, there was another motivation as well.
CB Deion Sanders
"When the 49ers signed me (in 1994), they had all the talent in the world," Sanders recalled. "But what they didn't have was attitude. I was the missing piece for that. I guess the kids today would call it 'swagger,' and that's what I gave them. Then, in '95, the Cowboys, who knew they had to beat the 49ers, were thinking, like, 'OK, what element can we take away from them?' So they took me and my attitude, and it hurt the 49ers and helped get the Cowboys a Super Bowl. I gave them both that extra intangible thing they needed."
Sanders, of course, helped both teams win a Super Bowl, San Francisco in '94 and Dallas in '95. But he didn't dominate the respective teams' wide receivers. In the 1994 NFC championship game, for instance, Michael Irvin had 12 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns. In a '95 regular-season game versus the Cowboys, Jerry Rice registered five receptions for 161 yards and a score.
The Dallas Cowboys have a plan for the offensive left tackle spot, and, despite the selection of Tyron Smith of Southern Cal with the ninth overall pick in the first round two weeks ago, a club source told The Sports Xchange that the team's "definite" preference is to have Doug Free return for at least another year, and possibly the long-term.
After starting only seven games in his first four seasons in the league, Free moved from the right to the left side in his fifth year, after Dallas released Flozell Adams, and started all 16 games. By unofficial count, Free permitted five sacks in '10, all of them after Tony Romo was injured in the sixth game, and Jon Kitna became the starter for the rest of the campaign.
Free, 27, a relative baby by the Dallas line's standards, is a free agent whose status won't be determined until there is a CBA agreement. The team made him a one-year restricted tender at the highest level, $3.442 million (first- and third-round compensation), but will want to discuss a long-term deal once there is labor peace and the moratorium on negotiations is lifted.
A lot of teams, Dallas included, felt that Smith's athleticism and quick feet made him a left tackle candidate. But Smith never started a game at left tackle for USC and never even practiced at the position the past two seasons.
Former University of Florida standout cornerback Janoris Jenkins, dismissed from the Gators squad two weeks ago by first-year coach Will Muschamp after a second marijuana-related arrest in three months, reportedly will transfer to Division II power North Alabama to finish his college career.
The move is a good one, NFL scouts said this week, for Jenkins, who might have entered the supplemental draft or pursued litigation to force his way into the league. Both those alternatives were far more dicey than playing in 2011, league talent evaluators feel, and Jenkins, at one point rated the No. 3 cornerback prospect in the 2012 draft by NFLDraftScout.com, will have an opportunity to rehabilitate himself and his image.
"He's got the goods (to play in the NFL), but he has to clean up his act," one league area scout told The Sports Xchange. "Teams worry about that (stuff), and he should, too. It's a good, solid program for him, though, and it gets (NFL) attention."
The Lions, who open the 2011 season on Sept. 3, presumably with Jenkins in the lineup, are coached by Terry Bowden, who is 20-6 in two seasons. North Alabama claimed the Division II title 1993-95, and has advanced to the D-II playoffs six straight times. The Sports Xchange first reported on May 2, citing two sources, Jenkins likely would transfer to a lower-division program and play in 2011, rather than seek to move to the NFL.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.